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A framework for improved health

20 Oct 2015

The first comprehensive survey of the nation’s health in almost eight years provides valuable information on health, well-being and lifestyle behaviours, and how these affect people living in Ireland, writes Gary Culliton.

Some 17 per cent of Irish people did not use any form of contraception outside of a steady relationship, a new survey has found. The first comprehensive survey of the nation’s health since 2007 has been launched by the Minister for Health, Dr Leo Varadkar. The first ever Healthy Ireland Survey of 7,500 people aged 15 years and over gives the most up-to-date picture of the health of the nation, including lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, diet and mental well-being.

The Healthy Ireland Survey found fewer than one-in-five people now smoke. Eighty-five per cent have good health but 28 per cent have a long-standing condition. Obesity is levelling out, but 60 per cent of people are still overweight. Two-thirds of people are not getting enough exercise and four out of 10 Irish people binge when drinking. Most people eat fruit and vegetables daily but only 26 per cent eat the recommended five portions.

Almost half the population is in a social club or organisation and there are “good levels of mental health”, but this is “better among men than women”. Half of the people know someone with dementia.

Positive changes

Minister Varadkar said: “There have been some positive changes since the Survey on Lifestyle and Attitude to Nutrition (SLÁN) survey in 2007 including a further drop in smoking rates, and the incidence of overweight has actually levelled off, while levels of regular exercise are rising. However, we still face some serious risks to the future health of the nation including alcohol misuse or harmful drinking patterns, and the significant number of people who still do not take enough exercise or who are overweight.

“This survey gives us some really useful information and will be repeated every year. What you don’t measure, you can’t improve. It will feed into new policies on obesity, sexual health, and physical activity, and further legislation to control tobacco use. We will shortly publish the Public Health Alcohol Bill. But it’s important to recognise that society as a whole needs to work with the Government to address these issues. Healthy Ireland provides the perfect framework for that task.”

Dr Tony Holohan

Key findings
Some of the other key findings in the Healthy Ireland Survey include: that daily smoking rates have fallen to 19 per cent with more adults now ex-smokers than current smokers, and 63 per cent of smokers are planning or considering quitting. The proportion of the population that is overweight or obese has stabilised but remains high at 60 per cent. Only 32 per cent of the population meet the national physical activity recommendations. “Being more physically active” was the change most frequently selected by individuals for improving their health and well-being. Some 39 per cent of drinkers binge on a typical drinking occasion. Only 15 per cent of those drinking at harmful levels recognised that drinking harmed their health.

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, commented: “We know in Ireland that the number of people experiencing chronic diseases is increasing dramatically. While we rightly focus on improving the quality and efficiency of the health services needed to care for these patients, we also need to have a greater emphasis on prevention, as we know that the majority of these chronic diseases are preventable.

The valuable data coming from this Survey will assist us to more effectively address a range of issues such as overweight and obesity, problematic alcohol consumption, smoking, and physical inactivity.”

The Survey has also provided evidence about issues such as social connectedness, dementia awareness and well-being. Interesting findings in the Healthy Ireland Survey include that 47 per cent of the population participate in a social group.

Healthy Ireland
The publication of the Healthy Ireland Survey provides valuable information on the health, well-being and lifestyle behaviours and how these affect people living in Ireland.

Click to read more (pdf)

In addition to completing the survey questionnaire, individuals interviewed were asked to undertake a physical measurement module.

Interviewers measured and recorded the respondent’s height, weight and waist circumference. Some 6,144 respondents (81%) participated in this module.

After completing the survey questionnaire, respondents aged 17 years and over were asked to complete a self-completion questionnaire on issues relating to sexual health. A total of 6,529 respondents (87% of those aged 17 and over) participated in this module.

The Survey included a module relating to awareness of dementia as a baseline measure to assist in the implementation of the National Dementia Strategy.

The Healthy Ireland Survey was commissioned by the Department of Health to update data available on a range of health issues since the last major health survey conducted in Ireland, SLÁN 2007.

Healthy Ireland has come about because of concerns that the current health status of people living in Ireland — including lifestyle trends and health inequalities — is leading us towards a future that is dangerously unhealthy, and very likely unaffordable. Healthy Ireland seeks to provide people and communities with accurate information on how to improve their health and well-being and seeks to empower and motivate them by making the healthy choice the easier one to make.

Gary Culliton

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Irish Medical Times